This week I’ve been pattern testing the new Henry Dress for the brilliant Erin over at The Brooklyn Pattern Company. With my bright and bubbly model in mind, the most gorgeous turquoise blue cotton with white polka-dots from Andover Fabrics jumped out at me and demanded to be used! It’s just so much fun, and fingers crossed will be the perfect balance between modern and retro, just like the pattern itself. Which got me thinking about polka-dots’ etymology- how did they get their unusual name and just how ‘retro’ are they?
The definition of a polka-dot is “a dot in a pattern of regularly distributed dots in textile design” (Merriam-Webster). Dotted fabrics began gaining popularity during the 19th Century, once the industrial revolution made production much easier. However before the term ‘polka-dot’ was created, these dotted fabrics would fall into one of three categories: Dotted-Swiss (raised dots on transparent tulle, which I’ve used here), Quinconce (French for the five dots on a dice) and Thalertupfen (used to describe patterns with dots the size of a German ‘Thaler’ coin).
It is no coincidence that the dotted pattern shares its’ name with the dance which took mid-19th Century by storm and created ‘polka mania’. The dance itself derives its’ name from the Bohemian word meaning Polish Woman: “polka”. Historians debate the extent that the dance influenced the textile, but it would appear that as both trends grew rapidly, the pattern was named after the dance simply to jump on board current hype, and extend the pattern’s reach and popularity even further. However, it could also be argued that as polka dance clubs were established, members wanted to adopt a uniform. Members chose to wear spotted garments which created a demand, as well as a trend, for dotted fabric. Consequently the pattern we’ve come to know as polka-dot was born.
In the 20th Century, the polka-dot went from strength to strength. From Miss America wearing a polka-dot swimsuit in 1926, to the creation of Minnie Mouse in 1928, polka-dots became a staple in fashion culture. Popular figures such as Marilyn Monroe adorned in dots in films and photoshoots means that this wonderful pattern will forever be ingrained in our fashion subconscious. As Anna Akbari puts it:
“There’s definitely a nostalgia associated with polka dots. I think of the ‘50s and ‘60s. With the rise of vintage, it makes sense that polka dots would be revived.”
So what about childrenswear? To me polka-dots are cute and fun and quintessentially youthful which means they’re perfect to use on home sewn garments for little ones.
So go on, dig through that fabric stash and pull out those polka-dots! In the words of the LA Times,
“You can sign your fashion life away on the polka-dotted line and you’ll never regret it”